Saturday, February 9, 2019

What if the World is Dirty? (How to Rebelliously Write about Dark Subjects)

"We only accept clean books."

"There was cussing and negative behavior in this book!"

"I hated the level of violence in that book. I definitely didn't need to read all of that."

We've all heard these complaints. Honestly, most of us can probably attest to having made these complaints or stating these things ourselves--myself included. As rebellious readers and writers, we all want clean books and less content.

But as I've delved deeper into the world of young adult literature, as I've discovered my writing identity and goals, I've found something:

It is not always possible to write 100% clean books.

How is this the case? Is it not always possible to combat the darkness? Well, yes and no. The thing is, sometimes, more often than I think we'd care to admit, we can't just write happy sunshine stories and expect to get across what we want to get across. If you want to write a Holocaust novel, it's not going to be clean. There's no way to make it so, not without sacrificing the weight of what truly happened in Hitler's concentration camps. Sure, you can block out language; you can choose not to describe things in detail. But in the end, you cannot write a completely clean and bright Holocaust story. You just cannot do it.

And this leads to a point that I think is very important: In order to combat darkness the best, you must let it be there in true darkness, but you must refute it with a stronger light.

Let's look at one of my favorite series as an example: Tricia Mingerink's Blades of Acktar. This is a story about a fantasy kingdom where the imposter king keeps his lords and provinces in check through a system of assassins. These assassins are his bodyguards, his police force, and his generals; they kill anyone he deems unnecessary, are not above terrifying women, and wear each of their kills as a scar on their shoulder. If they fail enough times, they will be brutally tortured until they die.

Mingerink manages to keep all of this in a very bleak series, but still maintains a massive light. How? How does she do that? And the answer is: By drawing contrasts.

In the midst of all the other assassins, there is one who sees things differently. He must learn to put his darkness behind him and embrace the light, and he must fight for the good instead of the bad. He is a contrast.

This boy, Leith, has spent his entire life in the darkness of a world where death and punishment are simply the way of life. But outside the king's castle, he finds a haven among people who actually care. The king and his assassins stand in stark contrast to the good people beyond, who are healers and pastors and people who love God and each other.

In this series, there is a contrast. The darkness is strong, but the light is stronger still.

And THAT is how you write rebelliously about something dark.

Depict the darkness as it is--evil, despicable, heart-breaking. But do not leave it at that. Don't glorify the darkness; don't let it have the last word.

Give the forces of good the victory.

And let there be light in the darkness.


  1. AMEN to this! This was amazing, Faith!!!

  2. YES! We don't defeat darkness by closing our eyes to it ... that makes EVERYTHING around us dark, including our sight and love. As you say, light is stronger than darkness, but we must shine it at the darkness in order for it to have affect.

  3. LEITH!!!

    This is such a great post, Faith! Yes, we shouldn't turn our eyes from the darkness and the sin-but rather we should admit it is there, because that is the first step to defeating it!

  4. this is something I've been struggling with. thank you for providing a solution!